You Don’t Always Need a Camera Bag

You Don’t Always Need a Camera Bag

Like most photographers, I own more than one camera bag. There is my main bag, my video gear bag, my small kit bag, my rolling bag for airplane travel, and that one, never-been-used, just sitting in the back of the closet, camera bag of unknown origin.

John Ricard working with 3 cameras, a flash, and an extra lens, all carried without using a camera bag.

An online search for “Kickstarter, camera bag” will reveal an endless series of new bags being created and offered for sale on a regular basis. These offerings come from both well-established camera bag makers and new companies entering this competitive field for the first time. The pitch for any new bag is usually something along the lines of how this particular bag will solve all the problems you have with your current bag. The Kickstarter videos all seem to be made from the same storyboard, with obligatory shots of people modifying concept drawings at a large computer monitor, prototypes being tested, a woman riding up a mountain trail with a camera bag on her back and a yoga mat strapped onto that bag, and a shot of a 16” MacBook Pro being slid into a dedicated compartment. Add some narration about how the bag was been made from recycled materials and the Kickstarter campaign is ready to launch. It is noteworthy that many camera bag campaigns on Kickstarter exceed their funding goals. Clearly, photographers care about camera bags.

Participants at Back 2 School Bookbag and School Supply Giveaway in Brooklyn, photographed by John Ricard. Leica M10 Monochrom with 35mm Summilux. 

I am not as dedicated to my camera bags as other photographers appear to be. Whenever a new camera bag is reviewed here on Fstoppers, the post generates a lot of user comments. People point out what they see as design flaws in that bag and often give their favorite bag's name and model number. As I type these words, I don’t know the maker of my main camera bag but I believe it is made by Lowepro. As I step away from my computer to examine the bag, I find it is a discontinued Lowepro bag similar in design to the Lowepro Fastback Pro BP 250 AWIII.

Participant at Back 2 School Bookbag and School Supply Giveaway in Brooklyn, photographed by John Ricard. Leica M10 Monochrom with 35mm Summilux. 

I notice a lot of photographers wear their camera bags on their backs while doing event photography. I find it difficult to navigate through the crowd when I’m wearing a bag. Also, there is no place to secure a camera bag at most events and I risk the bag being stolen by bringing it to an event and leaving it unattended. For these reasons, I often don’t bring a camera bag when photographing an event. I live in NYC where I often take the subway to my destination. It is difficult to transport multiple camera bodies and lenses on the train without a proper camera bag so there are times when I must bring a camera bag when I travel this way. However, if I am driving to a gig, I often leave the bag at home and travel with the gear on the car's floor or in the trunk.

Participants at Back 2 School Bookbag and School Supply Giveaway in Brooklyn, photographed by John Ricard. Leica M10 Monochrom with 35mm Summilux. 

The secret to this minimalist approach is the Domke F-901 and F902 pouch. I’ve been using these for decades because I have yet to see a product better suited for holding lenses, batteries, power bricks, and accessories while one is working. I usually wear 2 or 3 of these pouches when I am photographing events. I use a Lowepro belt to support the weight so that my pants are not being pulled down by the weight of the gear. The pouches are great because they have no padding and once you remove a lens, the pouch lies flat and seems to disappear.

I recently photographed a back-to-school book bag giveaway that was held on a crowded street outside a park in Brooklyn. Because I was able to drive to this event I did not bring a camera bag. I wore a Nikon Z6 with 24-70mm lens on one shoulder, and a Nikon Z7 with 17-35mm lens on the opposite side. The Leica M10 Monochrom with 35mm Summilux was worn around my neck. On my waist were the Lowepro belt and Domke pouches. The smaller pouch held a Profoto A1, and the larger pouch held the older version of the Nikon 70-200mm lens, which I ended up not using this day. The larger pouch is where I place my M10 and 35mm lens when I’m doing street photography or taking pictures at events hosted by my family.

Working this way allows me to move easily through the crowd. And because I have not attempted to hide my bag under a table, I can photograph the event without wondering if someone is stealing my bag while I am working. Perhaps this approach can work for you as well.

What is your favorite camera bag? Do you ever leave it at home when doing event photography?

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16 Comments
00rob00 Rob00Rob's picture

Just bring whatever you're going to really and practically use. If you get stuck, then good, up your skill and work with what you have or be honest that you're unable to do it and another day will be required by you to get the results you envision. Simple to me. Have so a bag and overthinking what to pack for a situation can be unnecessary stressful. It also takes away greatly from the joys of photography.

John Ricard's picture

I think that is a big part of the camera bag problem -people travel with too much gear. If I am shooting something for myself, I try to be as minimal as possible. It is only on a true client job that I bring multiple bodies and backups and gear for problems that may arise.

Greg Edwards's picture

I use a generic small canvas "man bag" and carry delicate things such as lenses in neoprene pouches within.

I'm not a photographer by any stretch, but when I travel I like like to know I've got everything at hand I need to take the best photos I can. Whilst I'll take all three of my lenses with me on holiday, I'll usually walk around with just one attached and possibly a small prime in the bag, and leave the telephoto in the hotel unless I know I'm going to need it - such as a zoo trip. Otherwise, my bag will also contain a spare battery, SD card, cleaning cloth, a couple of filters, a bottle of water, perhaps a travel guide and other daily essentials.

The biggest problem I have with many camera bags for travelling is they look like camera bags. The worse offenders are camera manufacturer branded ones - literally advertising the expensive goods inside. Whilst I realise I still look like a tourist with my small mirrorless camera strapped around my neck and a canvas man bag at my side, I feel it's less desirable to muggers and opportunistic thieves than a large DLSR and canon branded kit bag.

M Hector's picture

I despise carrying things against my body, for many reasons, so I do all that I can to avoid carrying a backpack or bag. Hot, sweaty, and they scream come steal something. Instead I have a nice shoulder strap that allows me to slide and swivel my camera and hold it in front of me where if anyone wants to attempt to touch or take it, they are going to have to get through me first. But aside from that, I do think that this is one of the reasons why smartphones have become so ubiquitous for photography. You don't stand out like a sore thumb, as you do with bags and backpacks and tripods hanging all over your body. Anyway, my focus or obsession has always been more on the camera strap than the bag I know I will not be carrying.
Great article! It is amusing that you find so many camera bag offerings and such a common theme on Kickstarter. It shows how dissatisfied we all are at being mules.

John Ricard's picture

Most people wear backpacks though. At least here in NYC where we aren’t traveling by car. So even those iPhone photographers are wearing backpacks -just not camera backpacks ;)

Douglas LeBlanc's picture

In Toronto, Ontario - you'll probably want to make your gear inconspicuous as possible, so you don't gather opportunists thieves around your person as you move through transit systems, and the street in general.

Rob Mulligan's picture

My not-a-camera-bag camera bag for years: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=biLHmtFaLVo&t=67s

Tony Clark's picture

I am guilty of having a few bags, an old Tenba backpack, a smaller LowePro that fits in an overhead compartment, two messenger bags with inserts and a small ThinkTank sling bag. Each one has a purpose and it depends on whether or not I want or need to be inconspicuous. I see them like my Lightware and Tenba cases, they protect my investment and have different capacities depending on the job. Overall, the bags and cases are relatively inexpensive compared to what they hold.

Big C's picture

Just stay away from those bags and everything that sits on just _one_ shoulder. Sadly I came to this conclusion quite late and at the price of detriment of my shoulder girdle. Even if you are fit and carrying only a reasonably small weight on one shoulder or in one hand, your shoulder girdle will degrade over time and then start failing you with little notice. So, please, use backpacks over bags and try to avoid carrying your camera in just one hand for any prolonged time.

Greg Edwards's picture

As a bass guitarist for around 30 years, I heartedly agree.

Douglas LeBlanc's picture

This is why I have a 32L Osprey HikeLite bag for a daypack, I'll carry my Think Tank 30 Digital Holster inside it. I need both shoulder straps + the belt strap + chest strap and the glorious air-flow mesh on the back of the HikeLite lets my back breathe so it doesn't get covered in sweat. This is my daily driver at the moment.

Robert Teague's picture

Landscape photographers need not apply ....

Jan Kutter's picture

When I'm doing street photography, I usually just carry a camera with one lens and no bag, that's all. If I need a bag for bringing more gear, I very often slide my camera into a Domke Wrap, the lenses into ultra-light neoprene pouches, the other stuff (backup batteries, memory cards, etc.) into a slim Lowepro Gearup wrap, and then I'm just throwing everything into a simple everyday backpack or messenger bag. No specific camera bag, we all already have plenty of bags of various shapes and sizes at home, right? This way it's light, it's simple, it inconspicuous, and it's pretty low budget. And I'm not a big fan of fancy deviders anyway. (Which doesn't mean that I'm not owning several camera bags as well...)

Matt White's picture

Read this, and my mind is saying "you need another camera bag".

John Ricard's picture

I”m sure I’ll end up buying another bag I don’t need at some point. And I’m a sucker for the marketing from bloggers on YouTube. When the latest Peter McKinnon bag came out I was convinced I needed it just because I had watched a bunch of videos telling me how great it was. “Wait. It’ has a LOFT? Well I NEED that” ;)

Douglas LeBlanc's picture

What I really want to see @Fstoppers is some solutions for carrying a DSLR + 100-400mm lens on ones person, while riding a gravel bike & secure but ready for action at a moments notice.

Pragmatic Solutions Wanted!

Riding a bike on urban wilderness paths & repurposed rail trails presents many opportunities at handheld wildlife shots - and a bicycle is an awesome conveyance. You can reasonably cover more ground, quieter and faster. It's a great way to get to some remote trail heads too.

The issue then is carrying a wild life kit comfortably and safely (for the camera), on ones person and not the bike frame because the human body is better at vibration dampening than a bike frame is. With your camera at the ready as opportunities present themselves like that great blue heron hunting in the river to your left.